The Divergence of Judaism and Islam. Interdependence, Modernity, and Political Turmoil

(Joyce) #1
In Search of Jewish Farmers: Jews, Agriculture, and the Land in Rural Morocco · 151

suppression of loans against security caused Jews to lose considerable
property, sometimes lands that they had held for generations. Some Jews
saw these measures as a turning point, unable to regain the lands that
they had previously held and adding to the impoverishment of their
communities caused by years of drought, famine, and epidemics, a rea-
son for emigration following World War II.^32
Despite the decline of some of the rural communities following World
War II, interest in Jewish farmers actually began to intensify in Morocco
in the 1940s and 1950s for ideological reasons that were rooted in the no-
tion of revitalizing the Jewish people through agriculture, an important
component in the modernist agenda of European Jewry since emancipa-
tion. The notion of the “return to the soil” found expression not only in
European ideas about the “regeneration” of the Jewish people but also
in Zionism and even Jewish support for Moroccan nationalism. Clearly,
however, European Jews did not “return to the land,” and they contin-
ued to concentrate in urban professional life. However, creating Jewish
farmers remained an important goal in the expansion of European Jewish
influence to the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean basin, as well
as part of the agenda for colonial emancipation in the Maghrib.
The Alliance Israélite Universelle, since its foundation in 1860, em-
braced this ideology. The creation of the Mikveh Israel school near Jaffa in
1870 was part of this agenda.^33 The Alliance was not interested in national
redemption in their ancestral homeland in this period. Rather, it wished
to bring modernity to the traditional Jewish community of Palestine or,
as Aron Rodrigue calls it, part of its “Palestineophile” orientation.^34 Once
established, it was also hoped that graduates of the AIU schools would
be sent there so that they could return to their native lands as farmers.
In Tunisia, an agricultural school was created at Djédeida, twenty-five
kilometers from Tunis in 1895, with the hope of extending its influence
among North African Jewry’s urban poor. To the AIU, agriculture seemed
the only way the young graduates of the schools could progress in a pre-
dominately agrarian country. Otherwise, the students would leave school
every year and have no other choice but to turn to “peddling and petty
commerce.” Land was also purchased in 1903 at Reghaïa near Algiers to
employ Algerians graduating from the Djédeida farm school. The Djé-
deida school, however, failed to produce more than a handful of Jewish
farmers, and with low enrollment, it closed in 1919.^35
The idea of creating a new generation of Jewish farmers out of the

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